I grew up thinking elements were boring and their whole purpose was to be memorized from the Periodic Table of Elements. This book destroys that myth by giving examples—celestial and terrestrial—that are made up of those elements. It’s also filled with little silly jokes and asides and fun activities that help make the rather abstract concept of elements very relatable.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2013)
Full disclosure, Melissa is my go-to nonfiction author, and I love basically everything she has ever written. This book is an irresistible combination of intriguing structure, riveting information about a delicious topic, and laugh-out-loud humor provided by the tiny bookworms at the bottom of each page. To push this book right over the edge, Melissa has great videos about her process of writing the book, making this a perfect mentor text for writing as well.
This gorgeous pop-up nonfiction book focuses on animals people might find in their backyards. I love the way it elevates common animals as well as the way it transitions from one animal to the next by connecting something about their setting, behavior or some other feature to the next animal. While it’s written for K-2, older kids also enjoy reading it and it makes a wonderful mentor text for structure.
Yes! We Are Latinos: Poems and Prose about the Latino Experience by Alma Flor Ada (Charlesbridge, 2013)
This book is one of my new favorites for a few reasons. Not the least of which is that it is a rare expository text paired with poetry. Additionally, it is organized in an incredibly classroom friendly way: each chapter explores a different aspect of the Latino experience, something very rare to find in children’s books. I also love that the book offers follow-up reading for each topic it explores. A must have for those of us looking to round out our libraries with more mirrors and windows.
Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca Johnson (Millbrook Press, 2012)
Middle-grade readers will be riveted by this fascinating combination of narrative stories and expository background information. The author uses an extended cinematic zombie metaphor throughout the book to describe a variety of predatory insects that control other insects’ bodies. Warning: it is very gross. 2nd Warning: You won’t be able to keep it on your shelf.
Colleen Cruz is an author of books for teachers and kids, including The Unstoppable Writing Teacher and Border Crossing, a Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award Finalist. She was an elementary public school teacher in Brooklyn for many years. She now works as Senior Lead Staff Developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University where she supports schools, teachers, and students nationally and internationally.